The Book Praise Events The Author

Reviews

 

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. While most Americans watched the 9/11 attacks on television, the guardians of the nation's air-control and air-defense systems had the unenviable task of trying to halt them. Working from interviews and tape archives, Spencer's minute-by-minute chronicle recreates their heroics in nerve-racking detail. In her telling, air-traffic controllers panicked as a seemingly routine—and quickly spotted—initial hijacking metastasized into a coordinated terror attack of unknown size and direction, and tried to divine which of thousands of planes on their radars had become guided missiles. Airline pilots dodged through suddenly chaotic skies while assuring suspicious control towers that they weren't hijackers themselves. Meanwhile, Air National Guard fighter pilots, hobbled by bad communications and misdirection, scrambled to defend against a murky threat. (Spencer's sources insist there was a fighter in position to stop United 93, had its passengers not brought it down, by having the pilot ram the airliner with his F-16.) Spencer, a flight instructor, expertly elucidates the complexities and pitfalls of American aviation as it faced a staggering challenge. (June 3)

 



Politics and Prose
August 20, 2008

The book is written by Lynn Spencer, a first-time author, Duke graduate, and commercial pilot. To call this book riveting would be an understatement. After I started reading it, I struggled to stop for meals and sleep. It's awfully unsettling, too: the rumors and the chaos in the skies from lack of communication or inaccuracy of information are hard to fathom. Those of us watching CNN that day knew more than the control towers and the FAA knew. Lynn Spencer does a tremendous job of recreating the confusion of all the flight crews grasping to understand what was happening. I'll be giving many copies of this as gifts at holiday time, the perfect book for those who are not necessarily good readers.


 

Arizona Republic
Anne Stephenson - Jun. 6, 2008

'Touching History'
Lynn Spencer
(Free Press, $26)

"We have some planes." That's what the voice said in an overheard radio transmission from hijacked American Flight 11. In the hours after it and United Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center, those words haunted officials on the ground. Some planes. How many hijacked aircraft were still in the air? Five? Ten? Spencer, a commercial pilot, has written a nerve-racking account of 9/11 through the eyes of pilots, air-traffic controllers and government officials who coped with anarchy in the sky. Men and women who thrive on order and predictability faced chaos and made decisions with no illusion of certainty or control. Spencer includes the stories of many people who acted that day, from the FAA's national operations manager to a pilot whose plane almost collided with United 175 to another whose plane was erroneously suspected of being hijacked. The book can be confusing, but ultimately it's a riveting story.



Bookpage Review
Voices in the 9/11 skies
John T. Slaina

Readers, prepare for a quick takeoff with Lynn Spencer's Touching History, a new account of the experiences of pilots, air traffic controllers and military commanders on 9/11. The book begins with controllers losing radio contact with American Airlines Flight 11 moments before it slams into one of the World Trade Center towers. Weaving in the stories of the three other commercial airliners that were hijacked by terrorists that day, and the accounts of those who tried to prevent the planes from crashing into their targets, Touching History accelerates at a steady pace.

Never mind that readers already know the horrible outcome; the personal interviews and Cockpit Voice Recorder transcripts of conversations between pilots and controllers are riveting. And the tales are not limited to the four airliners lost that day. The book includes the perspectives of controllers trying to piece together what's happening, military pilots trying to track the hijacked planes, other commercial pilots desperately trying to land while worrying whether there is a hijacker onboard their planes, and FAA and Pentagon personnel struggling to communicate.

Spencer, a commercial pilot and flight instructor, has the expertise to understand what was going on in the skies on 9/11. She also clearly did her homework, listening to thousands of hours of taped air traffic conversations, and interviewing dozens of pilots, controllers and military officials who were on the front lines on 9/11. The transcripts provide the book with a sense of immediacy, as though the reader were in the cockpit or control tower, while the interviews offer important background and context.

If there is fault with Touching History, it is that its momentum slows in the final chapters. When the fourth hijacked airliner—United Flight 93—crashes in a field in Pennsylvania, it reduces the impact of the remaining stories of confused and fearful pilots and controllers still operating in other parts of the country. And Spencer's conclusion that the military was responsive and in control of the skies differs sharply with the opinion of the 9/11 Commission, which concluded that military pilots appeared slow and unsure of the location of the hijacked planes. Indeed, after reading Touching History, some readers might come away with the frightening feeling that the FAA, the Pentagon and the president didn't really know what was happening, had no clear lines of communication and no coordinated plan. Still, Spencer's book is worth reading as a thoroughly researched, clearly written account that offers new insights into that fateful day that changed America forever.

John T. Slania is a professor at Loyola University Chicago.


Superior Compilation of the Government Response on September 11, 2001
June 6, 2008
George Primbs "Book Hunter" (Washington D.C.)

To understand what happened on September 11, 2001 you must read this book.

This superb book, written by a pilot, ties together all the different government responses to September 11 into a very interesting and readable book.

The book sheds new light on the numerous unprecedented actions taken that day by many different agencies and pilots.

Touching History begins the morning of September 11, 2001 with air traffic control sensing that something is wrong. The book tells how the FAA, NORAD, Air National Guard, Air Force, Department of Transportation, Secret Service, White House, Department of Defense and the pilots handled and responded to the events of September 11.

You will understand the thoughts and emotions of ground controllers, administrators, military pilots and commercial pilots as they respond to the surprising and confusing events of 9/11.

The book examines the mindset of those on the ground and those in the air and provides a broad overview of how the major players responded that day.

There were air traffic controllers preventing mid air collisions, airline pilots trying to land at evacuating airports, fighter pilots rushing to battle, agencies trying to communicate with one another and local commanders trying to set up protective zones over New York City and Washington D.C.

Tough decisions about which fighter jets to send up and with which weapons and their orders are discussed in depth.

Touching History will provide an exhaustive in depth understanding of the events of September 11. Other than listening to the released NORAD tapes, which is recommended, this is a definitive book of events that day.

While some Generals say that the 9/11 report has a political agenda, this book gives a better historical and accurate look at who made what decisions and what their thought processes were.

July 18, 2008 by Tom Challies
 

I think we all remember where we were and what we were doing when, on September 11, 2001, we first heard that a plane had slammed into the World Trade Center. It is one of those moments we will undoubtedly always remember, just as so many people have never forgotten where they were when they heard about the assassination of J.F.K.. They are seared forever into our memories. They are utterly unique moments in history. How could we ever forget?

While the story of what happened on that day has already been told in many books and in several movies, none of the accounts has told it from the perspective of the pilots of the 5000 planes that were in the skies that day or from the perspective of those on the ground who were responsible for the air-control and air-defense systems that controlled the skies over America. In Touching History Lynn Spencer tackles the story from this new perspective and in so doing writes a book that is both fascinating and riveting. A commercial pilot herself, she is well acquainted with the decisions and the responsibilities faced by pilots and controllers across the nation.

In an interesting literary decision, Spencer opted to write the book in the present tense rather than the more obvious past tense. This makes the book read less like history and more like current events. It transports the reader to the day itself, giving a moment-by-moment breakdown of the actions and decisions of the day. The book effectively takes the reader back to that day, stirring memories and evoking emotion perhaps long forgotten. Though the reader knows how the story ends, it makes the journey no less interesting.

Meticulously researched, the book actually makes some important corrections to the official 9/11 Commission Report and introduces some interesting new details to the account. Even those who have read other books on the subject will find new information here as the author deliberately covers some of the lesser-known drama. For example, she writes quite extensively about Delta flight 1989, an aircraft officials became convinced had also been hijacked. The plane was refused landing on the East Coast and was eventually forced to land in Cleveland where it sat for hours on the tarmac before a SWAT team finally approached and cleared the plane. She tells such stories from the perspective of those involved, not as abstract history but as personal narrative. She writes also of fighter pilots who, flying unarmed planes, were ready and willing to sacrifice their lives by crashing into hijacked airliners to save lives on the ground; she writes about air traffic controllers who were faced with almost unimaginable stress and the nearly-impossible task of, for the first time in history, grounding every plane in the country. Spencer has a knack for detail and for finding and describing interesting stories.

Touching History is a book that drew me in and wouldn’t let me go until I had finished the last page. In fact, I took concerted effort for me not to destroy a whole work day reading it. It is that good. Anyone who wants to have a better understanding of what transpired on September 11 will want to read this account.

 

 

 

 

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